Sep 21, 2017

Axios Science

Welcome back. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the earthquake and the hurricanes.

Next Thursday, I'll be moderating a panel with Zoox's Bert Kaufman and robotics pioneer Helen Greiner as part of the Halcyon Dialogue series about robotics and AI. You can watch on the Axios science stream or on Facebook Live. And, check out Halcyon House on Sept. 29, since there will be robot demonstrations that are open to the public. Register for that here.

1. Gene editing questions that need answers

The gene-editing tool CRISPR is being used to change DNA across the spectrum of life. This week, it allowed scientists to determine the genetics underlying butterfly wing coloring and, for the first time, knock out a gene's function in a human embryo. Given the advances, we asked Jessica Berg, professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University, what ethical questions should be considered.

Read Jessica's piece here.

2. Trending: mental health searches

Axios' Stef Kight writes: Google searches for mental health terms related to depression, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder show a peak in the late winter and a dip during the summer, according to a recent analysis by Google News Lab and Gabriel Gianordoli. This is in line with a Google study in 2013, which also found that mental illness searches followed seasonal trends.

Yes, but: While the search trends seem to line up with seasonal depression, Allen Frances, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus at Duke University, told Axios that the study results "don't by themselves explain the phenomenon they're describing." He points out there could be several external factors that would contribute to the peaks and valleys of mental health related Google searches, including drug advertisements.

3. Axios stories to spark your brain
  • 2.5: The number of months that life expectancy in the U.S. is being reduced due to the opioid epidemic.
  • HIV prevention advance: Eileen O'Reilly writes about two studies that found using combinations of antibodies can prevent infection in monkeys. The approach could provide a new strategy for the development of a vaccine .
  • Shell shock: Airguns used to detect oil under the ocean floor are killing scallops, reports Erin Ross.
4. What we're reading elsewhere
  • Scientists create artificial embryo-like structures from stem cells, Antonio Regalado reports in MIT Technology Review. "These could be used to screen drugs to see which cause birth defects, find others to increase the chance of pregnancy, or to create starting material for lab-generated organs."
  • Kiwi comeback: Ed Yong's dispatch from New Zealand looks at the success of a program that incubates the threatened birds' eggs in captivity and releases them onto islands "where a young kiwi can learn how to kiwi."
  • Pew's new survey of how Americans consume science news. Some findings:54% regularly get science news from general sources but only 28% say the facts are right most of the time.The most common types of stories seen on social media: strange or weird findings (39%), new discoveries (37%), and celebrities providing health or medical advice (27%).Most interesting to me: 26% say they see stories they disagree with.
5. Something wondrous

From Erin Ross: Jellyfish seem to drift aimlessly — and brainlessly — through the sea. But despite their relatively simple nervous system, they enter an inactive period each night that, Caltech scientists report in a new study, is akin to sleep. The found that when jellyfish don't catch enough Z's, they lag behind the next day — just like humans do.

Why it matters: It's (essentially) impossible to test if all animals sleep. But, if "sleep is conserved from jellyfish all the way to humans, which are almost the furthest evolutionary distance you can go in animals," it would suggest sleep has ancient origins, Claire Bedbrook, one of the authors of the study, told Axios. Not only does this mean sleep probably only evolved once long ago, it also "really highlights how important sleep is for animals," she adds.

Read more here.